Impact: German-language Culture and its Reception
University of Liverpool, 23-25 July 2008
By: Karina Berger (Leeds), Katrin Henzel (Leipzig),
Charlotte Ryland (Oxford), Alexandra Vinall (Oxford)
The recent 3-day conference ‘Impact: German-language Culture and its Reception’ was held at the University of Liverpool, organised by Lyn Marven and Rebecca Braun. Coinciding with Liverpool’s ‘European Capital of Culture’ 2008 as well as celebrating the twentieth anniversary of Women in German Studies, this conference addressed how ‘impact’ may be conceptualised with reference to German-language culture and its reception, both at home and abroad. The broad scope for interpretation, which the central theme offered, was reflected in the diversity of approach, with papers exploring impact in, on and of literature, film, the biopic, museum displays, music, experimental and traditional theatre, the visual arts, the media, translation and language. The conference raised issues about the relation of culture and politics, particularly with regard to twentieth-century German history; how cultural impact affects literary and artistic production; how such production may impact upon societal attitudes; and commercial impact upon the arts. In addition, several papers drew attention to matters associated with reception, including the gap between the artist’s intention and reception of their work; the reception of the artist him/herself; and the effects of censorship or political orientation.
The breadth of papers offered at the conference suggested that ‘impact’ is a concept with significant resonance in German Studies, and one that is central to a wide variety of research interests. That the ‘impact’ of the theme extends to fields beyond German Studies was evident during the lively and interdisciplinary round table, which took place at Tate Liverpool at the end of day two (see below). Here, the discussion of the impact of German-language culture in the UK included, among others, observations of cultural perceptions, compatibility and differences in the arts, literature and theatre, themes of interest, for instance, to those working in the fields of Cultural Studies, translation or comparative studies. An edited podcast of the round table will be available via the WIGS website shortly (www.wigs.ac.uk).
In her opening keynote lecture, ANNE FUCHS (Dublin) engaged with the question of why the city of Dresden became an iconic memory site for ‘German wartime suffering’, describing it as one of the most significant ‘impact stories’ of the 20th century. Based on an analysis of the two-part TV drama Dresden (2006), and the debate surrounding the rebuilding of the Frauenkirche, Fuchs argued that the recent Dresden discourse illuminates wider cosmopolitan trends to recode the war experience.
The first panel of the conference concentrated on theorising cultural impact. KATRIN KOHL (Oxford) stressed the role of language for a concept such as ‘impact’ by focusing on the power of abstract forms, particularly the metaphor. Based on the assumption that metaphors can be seen as the most important cultural force, shaping the concept of culture and, by extension, our identities, Kohl examined different conceptualisations of national culture that deal with the metaphor “word is a weapon”. Her examination included positions of the 18th century (Goethe, Klopstock) as well as conceptualisations in 20th century Germany and led to the conclusion that after 1945 German culture has been dissociated from political functions in the public sphere. ELIZABETH BOA (Nottingham) explored the impact of Kafka's artist stories, demonstrating that these texts reflect upon the relationship between artist and audience, and between the work of art and the cultural institutions that frame it. Boa argued that the focus of these stories, in particular Bericht für eine Akademie and Josefine, die Sängerin oder Das Volk der Mäuse, is in the slippage between intended meaning and reception, and therefore represent the artist as a victim of misunderstanding, confined to the margins and yet celebrated by Kafka for precisely this outsider status. In the last paper of this panel, SARAH COLVIN (Edinburgh) examined the seemingly contradictory concept of the 'zero impact' of prison writing after 1968. Using Peter Paul Zahl (APO-member and later literary award holder) as an example, Colvin examined functions of prison writing that do not intend 'impact' in the standard sense. Colvin's analysis of Zahl's poem ‘ninguneo – verniemandung’ showed that political prisoners saw their writing predominantly as a way to make their voice heard and keep their identities alive.
In the afternoon, three papers reflected on the cultural impact of the process of translation. Based on English and German translations of Tadeusz Borowski’s Holocaust narratives, PETER DAVIES (Edinburgh) enquired into the role of translation in the construction of the Holocaust between cultures. As Borowski’s texts cut across several generic categories, Davies examined the way in which translators and editors have dealt with the ethical issues surrounding categorisation, revealing that the different translation strategies reflect both the cultural perceptions and paradigms of the culture of the target language, as well as changing notions of authenticity in writing about the Holocaust. ANNE BODEN (Trinity College Dublin) discussed Paul Peikert’s Chronik über die Belagerung Breslaus 1945, a diary describing the siege of Breslau and the mass expulsions in the final months of the war. First published in Poland, and then in the GDR in the 1960s, Boden examined the Polish paratexts that frame the diary, and then focused on the text’s reception in the GDR, revealing how the text – which suggests that expulsion was a logical consequence of the Germans’ support for a voracious German war machine and constituted a liberation by the Red Army – was used to support the official East German interpretation of the war. Last in the panel, DAVID BARNETT (Sussex) discussed the difficulty of ‘translating’ German theatre onto the English stage. Outlining the effects of the subsidised German theatre system, and identifying a fundamental conservatism within the institution of a commercial theatre in the UK, he argued that challenging dramaturgies have little chance of appearing, or succeeding, in Britain.
In the keynote lecture that followed, HELEN WATANABE-O’KELLY (Oxford) drew attention to the neglected figure of the ‘woman warrior’. By tracing the recurrence of the figures of the Amazon, Judith and Germania, as well as literature’s heroic maidens of Brecht and Schiller, Watanabe-O’Kelly argued that the image of ‘woman warrior’ has in fact dominated the German imagination from at least the Renaissance to the present and takes up a central and continuous place in the country’s tradition.
In the opening keynote to Thursday’s proceedings, JÜRGEN LUH (Stiftung Preußische Schlösser und Gärten) outlined the SPSG’s plans for the 300th birthday celebrations of Friedrich the Great in 2012. The project aims to find innovative and exciting ways to disseminate information on Prussian history and 18th century culture, and to awaken a renewed interest in this period. Luh addressed the issue of the German reception of Friedrich which oscillates between truth and legend, and highlighted how Prussian history has become a far more specialist topic over time, particularly amongst young people who, according to the SPSG’s research, have very little knowledge of Friedrich as a historical figure.
Panel A opened with CLAIRE ROGAN’s (Wesleyan) examination of the German artist Max Klinger’s impact as the first German-speaking artist to depict lesbian desire in art which was displayed to the public. His last portfolio, ‘Pavilion’ (1916), depicts the travails of an ideal Germanic woman and her resistance to the advances of, amongst others, an Amazon queen. Rogan presented Klinger as having been misrepresented by the main body of reception and argued that the negative reception of the work contributed to the failure to secure a long-term legacy for Klinger’s works. This was followed by a paper on the impact of transborder theatre festivals on the German-Polish border by JANE WILKINSON (Leeds). Wilkinson focused on two cross-border theatre events, Unithea and Viathea, as case studies to illuminate wider issues about the impact of such events on cross-border relations. Wilkinson demonstrated that audience reactions starkly contrast with the aims of the festivals, and with the effects which are claimed by the organisers, concluding that while there is general support for such initiatives, it is also questionable as to how effective these are in practice. CHLOE PAVER (Exeter) explored how material culture of the National Socialist period impacts upon museum displays of this period more generally and highlighted the difficulties in presenting the past in such displays. Paver argued that the conception of Nazi Germany as entirely totalitarian is transmitted through such museum exhibitions, primarily because the fringe elements of the regime, such as resistance and dissent, cannot easily be displayed. Museum displays can only focus on those objects which are, so to speak, pervaded by the symbols of Nazism, such as the swastika, and often objects are displayed without their original context.
A parallel session explored ‘Transmission and Reception in Popular Culture’, taking full advantage of the multimedia facilities available to present a compelling investigation into the impact of political song and film in new contexts. DAVID ROBB (Belfast) examined the reception of songs of the 1848 revolution in the folk revivals of post-1945 West and East Germany. He showed that the broad spectrum of attitudes conveyed in these songs, from positive revolutionary content, through retreat and resignation, to the celebration of emigration, meant that these songs chimed with several strata of society in both the FRG and the GDR from the 1950s to 1980s. The particular lyrics and musical setting chosen reflected both the political situation in the respective countries and the political persuasion of the singer in question. CHRISTIANE SCHÖNFELD (Galway) was also concerned with the new reception of an earlier text, this time the transformation of Lion Feuchtwanger’s 1917 drama and 1925 novel ‘Jud Süss’ into the Nazi film of 1940, directed by Veit Harlan. Contrary to the current view that the film was not based on Feuchtwanger’s novel, Schönfeld demonstrated that the film functions as a negative image of the novel, perverting and reversing its intentions. Rather than portraying human weaknesses, as the original play and novel do, the film represents only Jewish weaknesses, in particular by positioning the protagonist’s sexual abuse of a young woman at the climax of the narrative.
The second session dealt with the cultivation of culture. In his keynote lecture, GUNTHER NICKEL (Mainz/Deutscher Literaturfonds) illustrated the development of German literary sponsorship and in this context the specific role of the (19th century) bourgeoisie. Nickel outlined the numerous possibilities of financial aid available to contemporary writers in the German-speaking regions. Questioning the intention of literary sponsorship, he challenged this kind of 'continous alimentation', where writers stay dependent for long periods of time, and instead recommended the sponsorship of reading, for instance supporting programmes at schools to encourage early contact with contemporary literature.
Panel A opened with a paper by REBECCA BRAUN (Liverpool), outlining her latest research into the Gruppe 47 and examining post-war constructs of Heimat which can be read in(to) their work. Through an examination of documentary films about the Gruppe 47, Braun suggested that the symbolic importance of the group appears to be constructed in two ways: those outside seek to establish the group’s place in post-war discourse by connecting the ‘rootlessness’, which the group sees as self-defining, to the German landscape, while those within preserve the notions of a rootless resistant group which resists definition, which adds to the rhetoric of mythmaking. Thus, Braun’s conception of Heimat as related to Gruppe 47 shows us that its primary characteristic is a separatist, coherent myth. Public conceptions of the figure of the author were also addressed in KAREN LEEDER’s (Oxford) paper on Ingeborg Bachmann, which discussed the reception of Bachmann through two recent critical essays by Ulrike Draessner and Evelyn Schlag. She addressed Bachmann’s iconic status and the myth which has grown up around her as an author, both during her lifetime and after her death, the dramatic features of which have fuelled critical and scholarly fascination with her not only as an author but increasingly as a public figure. Leeder examined the 1954 Spiegel coverage of Bachmann and the image of the author which this conveyed, using this as a way to explore the cultural impact of the author, and more specifically, the female author. JENNY MCKAY (Leeds) examined Ingo Schulze’s acceptance speech on winning the Thüringer Literaturpreis in November 2007, in which he outs Germany’s commercial chiefs as the new feudal lords. She related this to his collection of short stories, Handy: dreizehn Geschichten in alter Manier (2007), and outlined how this work both supported Schulze’s claims about the increasingly feudal position of the German writer, and indicated that authors are necessarily in a state of ‘dependent independence’ on the financial bounty of these modern barons.
The three speakers in Panel B accentuated the shaping of the public sphere. KATRIN HENZEL (Leipzig) concentrated on the impact of anthologies of quotations around 1800. Based on the thesis that literature changes its functions when quoted, Henzel used examples to illustrate how anthologists influenced the readership. An analysis of paratexts, such as prefaces or subtitles, explained the intentions of these collections. Henzel also showed how anthologies of quotations preserved parts of literary texts, turning them into proverbs, while their writers’ identities were lost. MATTHEW PHILPOTTS (Manchester) examined how the literary journal Sinn und Form, once an official product of the GDR, protected itself in the post-Wende period in order to survive on the market. Using Bourdieu's model of the cultural field, Philpotts analysed reviews of the early 1990s to illustrate the struggle for symbolic capital at a time of scepticism towards former GDR journals. On the other hand, Sinn und Form dissociated itself from SED-ideology as well as from the capitalist market by trying to protect the 'Sinn' where there was no longer sense and to retain its small and elitist readership. ANA-MARIA PĂLIMARIU (Iasi) examined the role of the German-speaking minority in Czernowitz during 1918 and 1940 by analysing the Feuilleton of the Czernowitzer Morgenblatt. This newspaper has been one of the most important media sources of the Bukovina and can be seen as a platform for all minorities in Romania at that time. Pălimariu analysed the composition of the Feuilleton, including aspects of rhetorical media research such as the self-image of this medium and its influence on the readership.
The ‘Round Table’, held at the Tate Liverpool, concluded Thursday’s sessions with a discussion on how German-Language culture impacts upon British culture in the 21st century. The panel, chaired by Michael Schmidt, Professor of Poetry (Glasgow) and editor of Carcanet Press, included Christoph Grunenberg, director of Tate Liverpool; Karen Leeder, fellow at New College, Oxford, and translator; Walter Meierjohann, associate director at the Young Vic Theatre, London; and Rebecca Morrison, editor of the journal New Books in German, which aims to introduce German-language publications to the English market. The lively discussion centred on the reception of German culture in Britain, including the visual arts, theatre, literature and translation. Questions about common perceptions of German culture abroad as well as the position of German natives abroad were addressed, as well as concerns about the dearth of young German-language playwrights at British theatres. The difficulties of translating German-language literature for the English-language market were outlined, particularly with regard to poetry. Finally, the discussion moved onto the ways in which German-language culture is disseminated in the UK and it was suggested that it achieved a greater, and more welcome, impact when less overtly ‘German’.
ANDREW WEBBER (Churchill College, Cambridge) opened the last day of the conference with his keynote lecture on Berlin as the cultural capital of the 20th century. Based on Walter Benjamin's Berliner Kindheit and his description of Paris having been the cultural capital of the 19th century, Webber examined places and monuments in relation to the history of Berlin, Germany and the world during the last century. Webber offered a survey of different topoi of Berlin, including boundaries and thresholds, concluding with an analysis of Berlin’s materiality.
The three speakers on ‘culture and spectatorship’ examined different forms of witnessing, from Heine’s journalistic reports on revolutionary Paris, through the reception of 1950s German film as witness to attempts to come to terms with the past, to a bio-pic documenting the life and death of German poet Rolf-Dieter Brinkmann. LARA ELDER (Oxford) discussed the ambivalent position of Heine’s reports on revolutionary politics for the German Allgemeine Zeitung, as an attempt to conceal for the censor while simultaneously revealing for the reader. Elder demonstrated that a theatrical idiom pervades Heine’s reports, which implies that French revolutionary politics employed a dramatic mode, manipulating the visual in order to stage-manage its own reception. BEN MORGAN (Oxford) proposed a new reading of the first colour feature film to be made in Germany after the war, Schwarzwaldmädel (1950), as evidence against the received image of 1950s Germany as amnesiac. Rather, he showed that for contemporary viewers the film helped to construct a sense of emotional continuity with the pre-war era, through the re-appearance of pre-war actors and of motifs from earlier versions of the Schwarzwaldmädel story, in particular the popular operetta of the 1910s and 1920s. DEBORAH HOLMES (Vienna) showed excerpts from Harald Bergmann’s 2006 film Brinkmanns Zorn and examined Bergmann’s discussion of the film in a 2007 interview, in order to explore the generic implications of this experimental film. Holmes highlighted the ambiguous generic status of the film, which uses Brinkmann’s own audio recordings with staged visuals, as a unique fusion of the documentary and the bio-pic, while simultaneously assessing its position as ‘verfilmte Literatur’.
In the panel on ‘cultural icons’, the first two papers examined their ‘icons’’ lack of impact, tracing it to issues of censorship or political orientation. Using Gramsci’s concept of the organic intellectual, JOANNE SAYNER (Birmingham) analysed the attempts by Greta Kuckhoff to use her public role to create a democratic anti-hegemony. Analysing a wide range of Kuckhoff’s radio broadcasts, journal articles and speeches, Sayner illustrated Kuckhoff’s consistent awareness of her own positionality and suggested why Kuckhoff was unable to achieve the impact she wanted, looking at questions of censorship and the remit of a ‘public sphere’ within the occupation zones. KARINA BERGER (Leeds) examined Walter Kempowski’s reception in Germany from the late 1960s until his death in 2007. Outlining the author’s status as a persona non grata with the literary establishment in the highly politicised 1970s, Berger traced the cultural and political changes which led to the eventual volte-face in Kempowski’s reception, and a new-found appreciation of the author. LAURA BRADLEY (Edinburgh) traced the impact of Wolf Biermann’s expatriation on the Deutsches Theater and its production of Michael Kohlhaas in 1976-7, adapted by the director Adolf Dresen, who had refused to withdraw his protest against Biermann’s expatriation. Bradley analysed how the theatre dealt with an unexpectedly controversial text under the institutional pressures of state censorship and examined the divergent reception by local SED officials, the Stasi and Western reviewers.
Dr Rebecca Braun, Rebecca.Braun@liverpool.ac.uk
Dr Lyn Marven, L.Marven@liverpool.ac.uk
School of Cultures, Languages and Area Studies
Modern Languages Building
University of Liverpool
Liverpool L69 7ZR
+44 151 794 2754
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